“If we can harvest a wild mushroom, we should be able to harvest (and serve) a wild deer,’ says Chef Evan Mallett of Black Trumpet restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “It’s a big issue for chefs.”
Well, that would be a big issue for all of us! A provocative story by Mary Pols in the Maine Sunday Telegram on November 22 reminded me of a column I wrote a couple of years ago on this issue, so I decided to do a bit more research and give you a chance to weigh in on whether or not we should be able to sell our wild game meat.
Bonnie Holding, the Director of Information for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, already expressed her strong opinion, telling Pols, “That’s never going to happen.”
Well, actually, it’s sort of happening now. I checked in with DIF&W’s new Deputy Commissioner Tim Peabody, a former game warden, and Tim did a bit of research for me. Here’s the law, as he presented it to me.
Title 22, Ch 562 §2501. Exceptions
Nonprofit organizations including, but not limited to, 4-H Clubs, scouts and agricultural societies are exempt from department rules and regulations relating to dispensing foods and nonalcoholic beverages at not more than 12 public events or meals within one calendar year. [2011, c. 193, Pt. B, §10 (AMD).]
Tim explained that wild game can be legally served to the public at these dinners, but the hosts cannot pay for the wild game meat they serve. And they must adhere to the labeling requirement, outlined this way in the current hunting law book:
A person may not possess any part or parts of a bear, deer, moose, or wild turkey given to that person unless that gift bear, deer, moose or wild turkey is plainly labeled with the name and address of the person who registered it and the year it was registered.
To be clear, nonprofits can host wild game dinners up to 12 times a year and charge people to attend, but they can’t buy the meat they serve. It has to be donated to them or given to them by the Warden Service which does seize wild game animals from those who broke the law and sometimes even collects road killed critters.
But I will bet that much of that meat – including meat distributed by the Hunters for the Hungry program – is not properly labeled.
What it’s all about
Bonnie Holding actually made the case for serving wild game meat, by noting, “It has very high nutritional value. And there are some minerals we can get from wild game that we can’t get from farm animals. What could be more organic or free range than game meat? It is so good.” Indeed it is Bonnie. And that’s why chefs would like to serve it!
Maine Chef David Levi of Vinland expressed frustration that, “In this country, we have a very laissez-faire attitude toward the sale of wild animals from the ocean, including animals that are high in mercury and parasites and are endangered. It would be nice to create some legal avenues for people to make money (selling wild game meat). We should be pushing for change at the highest level,” he told Pols.
And then he hit close to home for me, referencing the fact that wild boar is sold in restaurant meals all over Italy. It is indeed, and it’s my favorite meal there. In fact, on our 2 week trip to Italy earlier this year, I had a wild boar meals 8 times!
Chef Mallet offered a reasonable explanation of his position, stating, “I am just saying we could be a lot more creative than we are right now about harvesting wild meat.”
The Harraseeket Inn offers, throughout the month of February, in its main dining room, it’s Wild Game Festival. My wife Linda and I, for our travel column published every Thursday in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, enjoyed and wrote about this amazing culinary experience in 2011. At the time, Linda called it, “the best dinner I ever had.” And yes, it was that good.
The Inn’s owner and manager, Chip Gray, told me that, before the doors open each year on this event, Maine game wardens visit to check his invoices and make sure he is not using wild Maine game. While there are some wild Maine fish and seafood dishes on the menu, the game meat is provided by farms throughout the country. The Warden Service reports that checking invoices for restaurants that advertise wild game is not something they typically do.
If I was one of the wardens checking on the Harraseeket’s Wild Game Festival, I’d insist on taste-testing a few of those dishes. Cornish game hen, perhaps. Pheasant pot pie maybe. Rabbit legs certainly. And my favorite from our last visit there, the Elk Osso Bucco. It’s amazing!
Pro’s and Con’s
Let’s take venison as an example. No hunter in his right mind is going to go to the expense of hunting and harvesting a deer – an expensive hunt for sure – in order to get a few bucks from selling the meat. But yes, some would sell the meat, and I’m afraid that the retail market would dominate and take donated meat away from the food banks and Hunters for the Hungry program recipients.
But is it really fair to deny commercial restaurants the opportunity to purchase and serve truly wild game meat, while wild game dinners are offered by nonprofits all over the state? Do we support charging people to eat wild game meat, or don’t we? And if we do, should hunters be the only ones who don’t profit from this opportunity? I wrote two years ago about a Skowhegan church that regularly hosts these dinners. And you are probably aware of the very popular wild game fundraising dinner hosted by Unity College every year.
Ok, it’s your turn to express your opinion on this issue. I’ve posted a question in the Sportsman Say Survey section of my website, which you can access here. Sometime soon, I’ll report on your responses!